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Babylonian Talmud: Tractate Sanhedrin

Folio 97a

the tabernacle of David ha-nofeleth [that is fallen].'1  He replied, 'Thus hath R. Johanan said: in the generation when the son of David [i.e., Messiah] will come, scholars will be few in number, and as for the rest, their eyes will fail through sorrow and grief. Multitudes of trouble and evil decrees will be promulgated anew, each new evil coming with haste before the other has ended.'

Our Rabbis taught: in the seven year cycle at the end of which the son of David will come-in the first year, this verse will be fulfilled: And I will cause it to rain upon one city and cause it not to rain upon another city;2  in the second, the arrows of hunger will be sent forth;3  in the third, a great famine, in the course of which men, women, and children, pious men and saints4  will die, and the Torah will be forgotten by its students; in the fourth, partial plenty;5  in the fifth, great plenty, when men will eat, drink and rejoice, and the Torah will return to its disciples; in the sixth, [Heavenly] sounds;6  in the seventh, wars; and at the conclusion of the septennate the son of David will come. R. Joseph demurred: But so many septennates have passed, yet has he not come! — Abaye retorted: Were there then [Heavenly] sounds in the sixth and wars in the seventh! Moreover, have they [sc. the troubles] been in this order7  !

[Wherewith thine enemies have reproached, O Lord,' wherewith they have reproached the footsteps of thine anointed.]8  it has been taught, R. Judah said: in the generation when the son of David comes, the house of assembly9  will be for harlots, Galilee in ruins, Gablan lie desolate,10  the border inhabitants11  wander about from city to city, receiving no hospitality, the wisdom of scribes in disfavour, God-fearing men despised, people12  be dog-faced,13  and truth entirely lacking, as it is written, Yea, truth faileth, and he that departeth from evil maketh himself a prey.14  What is meant by 'yea, truth faileth [ne'edereth15  ]'? — The Scholars of the School of Rab16  said: This teaches that it will split up into separate groups17  and depart.18  What is the meaning of 'and he that departeth from evil maketh himself a prey [mishtollel19  ]'? — The School of R. Shila said: He who departs from evil will be dubbed a fool by his fellow-men.20

Raba said: I used to think at first that there is no truth in the world.21  Whereupon one of the Rabbis, by name of R. Tabuth — others say, by name of R. Tabyomi — who, even if he were given all the treasures of the world, would not lie, told me that he once came to a place called Kushta,22  in which no one ever told lies, and where no man ever died before his time. Now, he married one of their women, by whom he had two sons. One day his wife was sitting and washing her hair, when a neighbour came and knocked at the door. Thinking to himself that it would not be etiquette [to tell her that his wife was washing herself], he called out, 'She is not here.' [As a punishment for this] his two sons died. Then people of that town came to him and questioned him, 'What is the cause of this?' So he related to them what had happened. 'We pray thee,' they answered, 'quit this town, and do not incite Death against us.'23

It has been taught: R. Nehorai said: in the generation when Messiah comes, young men will insult the old, and old men will stand before the young [to give them honour]; daughters will rise up against their mothers, and daughters-in-law against their mothers-in-law. The people shall be dog-faced, and a son will not be abashed in his father's presence.

It has been taught, R. Nehemiah said: in the generation of Messiah's coming impudence will increase, esteem be perverted,24  the vine yield its fruit, yet shall wine be dear,25  and the Kingdom will be converted to heresy26  with none to rebuke them. This supports R. Isaac, who said: The son of David will not come until the whole world is converted to the belief of the heretics. Raba said: What verse [proves this]? it is all turned white: he is clean.27

Our Rabbis taught: For the Lord shall judge his people, and repent himself of his servants, when he seeth that their power is gone, and there is none shut up, or left:28  the son of David will not come until denunciators are in abundance.29  Another interpretation [of their power is gone]: until scholars are few. Another interpretation: until the [last] perutah has gone from the purse. Yet another interpretation: until the redemption is despaired of, for it is written, there is none shut up or left, as — were it possible [to say so] — Israel had neither Supporter nor Helper. Even as R. Zera, who, whenever he chanced upon scholars engaged thereon [I.e., in calculating the time of the Messiah's coming], would say to them: I beg of you, do not postpone it, for it has been taught: Three come unawares:30  Messiah, a found article and a scorpion.31

R. Kattina said: Six thousand years shall the world exist, and one [thousand, the seventh], it shall be desolate, as it is written, And the Lord alone shall be exalted in that day.32  Abaye said: it will be desolate two [thousand], as it is said, After two days will he revive us: in the third day, he will raise us up, and we shall live in his sight.33

It has been taught in accordance with R. Kattina: Just as the seventh year is one year of release in seven, so is the world: one thousand years out of seven shall be fallow, as it is written, And the Lord alone shall be exalted in that day,' and it is further said, A Psalm and song for the Sabbath day,34  meaning the day that is altogether Sabbath — 35 and it is also said, For a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past.36

The Tanna debe Eliyyahu teaches: The world is to exist six thousand years. In the first two thousand there was desolation;37  two thousand years the Torah flourished;38  and the next two thousand years is the Messianic era,39

To Part b

Original footnotes renumbered.
  1. Amos, IX, 11.
  2. ibid. IV, 7.
  3. I.e., not actual famine, but the first signs thereof, no one being completely satisfied.
  4. Lit., 'men on whose behalf miracles occur.' — Jast.
  5. Lit., 'plenty and no plenty'.
  6. Either Heavenly voices announcing the advent of Messiah, or the blasts of the great Shofar; cf. Isa. XXVII, 13.
  7. Though troubles and evil decrees have come in abundance, they were not in the order prescribed.
  8. Ps. LXXXIX, 52.
  9. Where scholars assemble.
  10. [Gaulan, E. of the Sea of Galilee and the upper Jordan].
  11. The Jews living by the borders of Palestine. [H] the men of (the Hall of) Hewn Stones, I.e., the Sanhedrin.
  12. Lit., 'the face of the generation.'
  13. I.e., brazen, without shame of each other.
  14. Isa. LIX, 15.
  15. [H]
  16. V. p. 387, n. 7.
  17. [H] 'Adarim, 'adarim. [H] is connected with [H], meaning 'drove,' 'group.'
  18. Probably meaning that there will be so many conflicting opinions as to what is the truth as to render it, for all practical purposes, inaccessible.
  19. [H].
  20. Cf. Job XII, 17: He leadeth counsellors away spoiled ([H]) and maketh the judges fools. Sholal being parallel to 'fools', it bears the same connotation.
  21. I.e., no person always speaks the truth.
  22. Lit., 'truth'.
  23. Lit., 'against these men.'
  24. I.e., none shall esteem another. Another opinion: even the most esteemed shall be perverted and deceitful.
  25. Everyone will be drunk, so that in spite of the abundant yield, there will be a scarcity.
  26. [Heb. Minuth. By 'the Kingdom' is meant the Roman Empire, and the statement is a remarkable forecast by R. Nehemia (150 C.E.) of the conversion of Rome to Christianity under Constantine the Great in 313; v. however, Herford, Christianity in the Talmud, 207ff.]
  27. Lev. XIII, 13. This refers to leprosy: a white swelling is a symptom of uncleanliness; nevertheless, if the whole skin is so affected, it is declared clean. So here too; when all are heretics, it is a sign that the world is about to be purified by the advent of Messiah.
  28. Deut. XXXII, 36.
  29. 'When he seeth that their power is gone' is interpreted as meaning that they will be at the mercy of informers; then God will judge his people — redeem them through the Messiah.
  30. Lit., 'when the mind is diverted.'
  31. Hence by thinking of him they were postponing his coming.
  32. Isa. II, 11.
  33. Hosea VI, 2: the 'two days' meaning two thousand years. Cf. Ps. XC, 4. quoted below.
  34. Ps. XCII, 1.
  35. I.e., the period of complete desolation.
  36. Ps. XC, 4; thus 'day' in the preceding verses means a thousand years.
  37. I.e., no Torah. It is a tradition that Abraham was fifty-two years old when he began to convert men to the worship of the true God; from Adam until then, two thousand years elapsed.
  38. I.e., from Abraham's fifty-second year until one hundred and seventy-two years after the destruction of the second Temple. This does not mean that the Torah should cease thereafter, but is mentioned merely to distinguish it from the next era.
  39. I.e., Messiah will come within that period.
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Sanhedrin 97b

but through our many iniquities all these years have been lost.1

Elijah said to Rab Judah, the brother of R. Salia the pious: 'The world shall exist not less than eighty five jubilees,2  and in the last jubilee the son of David will come.'3  He asked him, 'At the beginning or at the end?'4  — He replied, 'I do not know.' 'Shall [this period] be completed or not?'5 — 'I do not know,' he answered. R. Ashi said: He spoke thus to him, 'Before that, do not expect him; afterwards thou mayest await him.'6

R. Hanan b. Tahlifa sent [word] to R. Joseph: I once met a man who possessed a scroll written in Hebrew in Assyrian characters.7  I said to him: 'Whence has this come to thee?' He replied, 'I hired myself as a mercenary in the Roman army, and found it amongst the Roman archives. In it is stated that four thousand, two hundred and thirty8-one years after the creation the world will be orphaned.9  [As to the years following,] some of them will be spent in the war of the great sea monsters,10  and some in the war of Gog and Magog, and the remaining [period] will be the Messianic era, whilst the Holy One, blessed be He, will renew his world only after seven thousand years.' R. Abba the son of Raba said: The statement was after five thousand years.

It has been taught; R. Nathan said: This verse pierces and descends to the very abyss:11  For the vision is yet for an appointed time, but at the end it shall speak, and not lie: though he tarry, wait for him; because it will surely come, it will not tarry.12  Not as our Masters, who interpreted the verse, until a time and times and the dividing of time;13  nor as R. Simlai who expounded, Thou feedest them with the bread of tears; and givest them tears to drink a third time;14  nor as R. Akiba who expounded, Yet once, it is a little while, and I will shake the heavens, and the earth:15  but the first dynasty [sc. the Hasmonean] shall last seventy years, the second [the Herodian], fifty two, and the reign of Bar Koziba16  two and a half years.17

What is meant by 'but at the end it shall speak [we-yafeah] and not lie?' — R. Samuel b. Nahmani said in the name of R. Jonathan: Blasted be18  the bones of those who calculate the end.19  For they would say, since the predetermined time has arrived, and yet he has not come, he will never come. But [even so], wait for him, as it is written, Though he tarry, wait for him. Should you say, We look forward [to his coming] but He does not: therefore Scripture saith, And therefore will the Lord wait, that he may be gracious unto you, and therefore will he be exalted, that he may have mercy upon you.20  But since we look forward to it, and He does likewise, what delays [his coming]? — The Attribute of Justice delays it.21  But since the Attribute of Justice delays it, why do we await it? — To be rewarded [for hoping], as it is written, blessed are all they that wait for him.22

Abaye said: The world must contain not less than thirty-six righteous men in each generation who are vouchsafed [the sight of] the Shechinah's countenance, for it is written, Blessed are all they that wait lo23  [for him]; the numerical value of 'lo' is thirty-six. But that is not so, for did not Raba say: The row [of righteous men immediately] before the Holy One, blessed be He, consists of eighteen thousand,24  for it is written, it shall be eighteen thousand round about?25  — That is no difficulty: the former number [thirty-six] refers to those who see Him through a bright speculum, the latter to those who contemplate him through a dim one.26  But are there as many? Did not Hezekiah say in the name of R. Jeremiah on the authority of R. Simeon b. Yohai: I have seen the sons of heaven,27  and they are but few; if there are a thousand, I and my son are included; if a hundred, I and my son are included; and if only two, they are myself and my son? — There is no difficulty: the former number [thirty-six] refers to those who enter [within the barrier to contemplate the Shechinah] with permission; the latter [uncertain number] to those who may enter without permission.

Rab said: All the predestined dates [for redemption] have passed, and the matter [now] depends only on repentance and good deeds. But Samuel maintained: it is sufficient for a mourner to keep his [period of] mourning.28  This matter is disputed by Tannaim: R. Eliezer said: if Israel repent, they will be redeemed; if not, they will not be redeemed. R. Joshua said to him, if they do not repent, will they not be redeemed! But the Holy One, blessed be He, will set up a king over them, whose decrees shall be as cruel as Haman's, whereby Israel shall engage in repentance, and he will thus bring them back to the right path.29  Another [Baraitha] taught: R. Eliezer said: if Israel repent, they will be redeemed, as it is written, Return, ye backsliding children, and I will heal your backslidings.30  R. Joshua said to him, But is it not written, ye have sold yourselves for naught; and ye shall be redeemed without money?31  Ye have sold yourselves for naught, for idolatry; and ye shall be redeemed without money — without repentance and good deeds. R. Eliezer retorted to R. Joshua, But is it not written, Return unto me, and I will return unto you?32  R. Joshua rejoined — But is it not written, For I am master over you: and I will take you one of a city, and two of a family, and I will bring you to Zion?33  R. Eliezer replied, But it is written, in returning and rest shall ye be saved.34  R. Joshua replied, But is it not written, Thus saith the Lord, The Redeemer of Israel, and his Holy One, to him whom man despiseth, to him whom the nations abhorreth, to a servant of rulers,

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Original footnotes renumbered.
  1. He should have come at the beginning of the last two thousand years; the delay is due to our sins.
  2. Of fifty years.
  3. [Messiah. The belief in his Davidic descent is already mentioned in the Psalms of Solomon XVII, 21.]
  4. Of the last fifty years.
  5. I.e., if at the end of the jubilee, shall it be at the beginning of the fiftieth year or at the end thereof?
  6. He will certainly not come before then, but may delay a long time afterwards.
  7. The square character of Hebrew letters is so called on account of the great resemblance it bears to Aramaic writing, the name Assyria being here used in the widest sense to include the countries on the Mediterranean inhabited by the Arameans; v. supra, 22b and 22a and notes.
  8. So the Wilna Gaon; v. A.Z. 9b; our editions have ninety.
  9. In great distress, as an orphan who has none to take care of him.
  10. Maharsha explains this as a figurative reference to the great nations.
  11. Just as the bottom of an abyss cannot be reached, so is it impossible to grasp the full purport of this verse (Rashi).
  12. Hab. II, 3.
  13. Dan. VII, 25.
  14. Ps. LXXX, 6.
  15. Hag. II, 6.
  16. V. p. 627, n. 4.
  17. The verses cited from Daniel, the Psalms, and Haggai were interpreted so as to give a definite date for the advent of the Messiah. R. Nathan however, on the authority of Hab. II, 3, asserts that all such calculations are false. The three verses refer to the Hasmonean, Herodian, and Bar Koziba's reign, but the advent of Messiah is unknowable, Rashi.
  18. [H] The verse is rendered, 'he will blast him who calculated the end.'
  19. I.e., Messiah's advent.
  20. Isa. XXX, 18.
  21. I.e., because we are not yet worthy of it.
  22. Ibid.
  23. [H]
  24. Maharsha deletes [H], parasang.
  25. Ezek. XLVIII, 35.
  26. Only thirty-six see Him with absolute clarity. The others receive a clouded vision of Him.
  27. I.e., those who enjoy the sight of the Shechinah in the hereafter.
  28. Israel's sufferings in the Galuth in themselves sufficiently warrant their redemption, regardless of repentance.
  29. [In the Jerushalmi, the last sentence, 'But the Holy … right path' is given as R. Eliezer's reply to R. Joshua.]
  30. Jer. III, 22.
  31. Isa. LII, 3.
  32. Mal. III, 7.
  33. Jer. III, 14: 'master over you' implies even against your wishes — i.e., without repentance of the whole nation (Rashi).
  34. Isa. XXX, 15.
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